Ian Froeb's STL 100 (2018 archive)

Stone Soup Cottage

Stone Soup Cottage ascended to No. 1 in the 2017 STL 100. It remains there in 2018. In the year and change since I last ate at Stone Soup, no meal — even at the restaurants immediately below it on this list — has come close to its full package of masterly French-influenced, farm-to-table fare and exemplary hospitality.

It’s an altogether transcendent experience.

I’d planned to dine again at Stone Soup before writing this, but when I returned from an earlier- and longer-than-planned leave, the restaurant was sold out beyond our deadline. As my visit occurred after Jan. 1, 2017, within this project’s scope, I’m confident including it here.

My dealing with sold-out reservations highlights a key point about Stone Soup: You must plan at least a month — or, to be safe, more like two months — ahead. Most of you will drive farther than normal to get here. All of you will pay $100 per person for the six-course meal.

Chef Carl McConnell understands a meal at his restaurant is a special occasion for most diners. As he sees it, this is an advantage for him.

“That’s something I learned in the travel industry,” says McConnell, who has cooked on cruise ships, a luxury Boeing 757 and an Arctic Ocean icebreaker. “It was easier to deal with the public in general because they were having fun.”

Stone Soup hosts only one seating a night, so there’s no pressure to turn your table. The evening belongs to you.

“We all believe in people,” McConnell says. “We believe in sharing our experience with the people that walk through the door every evening. It’s such a huge and great responsibility for us. We never take it lightly. We try to better what we did the day before.”

McConnell himself brings each course to the table and explains the dish.

“Every time I go out of the kitchen to serve something, that in and of itself is a very honest moment right there,” he says. “I’m the one who has to stand there and tell you what you’re having, whether I made a mistake or not. But there’s a euphoria in that.”

Extremely limited seating, an off-the-beaten-path location, no walk-in dining: Stone Soup is one of the unlikeliest restaurants, let alone success stories, in the St. Louis area. For McConnell, it was born of necessity.

When McConnell and his wife, Nancy, first opened Stone Soup in an even smaller space in 2009, he says, “I had two young children, I was laid off from my job, and we had to do something. We had to do it for our family.”

Hours: Dinner Thursday-Saturday

Last year's ranking: No. 1

Opened: 2009

Must order: Menu changes monthly